Food For Thought: U/R Ninjas

“Single Blue Ninja seeks aggressive, no-nonsense partner, not afraid of challenges, obstacles, or getting their clothes dirty. Economy is prized, and heading home so that I can swing is always appreciated. Reciprocal swinging is encouraged. Contact attached.”

Ninja of the Deep Hours is a sad little ninja. He’s been Standard-legal now for about a year, and he’s going to hang around for about nine more months. While in Vintage, he wound up ousting other, more serene blue creatures, that wanted to let you draw a card or deal their combat damage, he’s seen very little actual Constructed play in Standard.

I don’t know what my fascination is with this card. I really don’t. I really should hate it. Hystrodon blah blah blah Green sucks blah blah Aaron Forsythe kicked my puppy, yadayadayada… but I really do love Ninja of the Deep Hours. I’ve been trying to get the Best Blue Bear working for some time. Block, I tried to marry him to Secretkeeper, but I kept being stymied by being unable to get past blockers against White Weenie, and being unable to, well, win against Gifts Ungiven.

Not that I’m bitter, or anything.

(Just an aside, Gifts Ungiven doesn’t need restricting in Vintage any more than Standstill did. It’s a ridiculously flexible skill-testing card, and if Vintage players improve for having it in the environment, all the better.)

As time has marched on, it has marched past this doughty little pyjama-clad warrior. The simple fact is, while he can come out on turn 2, it means you need something not-embarrassing to come down on turn 1. Turn 1 drops that can reliably get through, that aren’t totally embarrassing if you don’t get them first turn? Nothing? I thought as much. I imagine that this is a pressing concern to the ninja as well; after all, I was totally unsurprised to find this ad in my local paper:

“Single Blue Ninja seeks aggressive, no-nonsense partner, not afraid of challenges, obstacles, or getting their clothes dirty. Economy is prized, and heading home so that I can swing is always appreciated. Reciprocal swinging is encouraged. Contact attached;”

Ah, it’s so sad when a Blue card has to do something to justify its existence beyond “Well, you can pitch it to Force of Will…”

Reading, however, I have found, is the best tech for deckbuilding. So far, I’ve found about five new deck ideas just from chasing the articles floating around on this here site here, and a lot of those weren’t even whole decks. The fact is, just as I expect you do, I saw the way a deck went together, then, with that knowledge under my belt, built a deck around what I found.

Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you don’t even need a whole deck to look at to get ideas. Sometimes it just takes a single card. Someone mentions something a card does that you hadn’t considered, and it falls into place alongside something else… and bang, you’re suddenly cooking with gas, and your deck becomes about cutting cards rather than finding cards that fit in. Sometimes, you find you can hybridise together two decks and create something new, powerful, and ultimately, kinda freaky. And sometimes, you just get the breakthrough you were after.

My epiphany for this came while I was flipping through decklists – mono-Red decklists, in fact. I’d tried UB ninjas, using Festering Goblin and Bile Urchin to get that elusive turn 2 ninja. I’d tried mono-Blue ninjas, even in Extended, using the not-too-cool Escape Artist and Ferropede to get through. And then… like a bolt from heaven, someone mentions that Giant Solifuge less-than-three’s Frenzied Goblin. Just like that, I flipped the metaphorical newspaper page, and there it is, staring me in the face.

“Are you looking for WILD TIMES? I come early and often. I’m loaded, primed, and pumped for hard-core partying! Red, Goblin, young but knows what you like. Can you handle me?”*

My own exploits had ignored Blue’s enemy colors. There was no decent mana-fixing, I thought. Beatdown decks have to contend with a few problems, one of which is that they’re the kind of deck that never wants to waste time futzing around to cast their spells. You just cut the color, trim the fat, and leave yourself with an overall better beatdown deck. So, because there were lands available, I gave Blue/White and Blue/Black a shot – with a brief Green/Blue stint, where I attempted to abuse comes-into-play abilities.

Mana problems are the kind of thing midgame and control decks can deal with. Beatdown decks? They don’t want to fart around with them. So that kept me, fearful and fleeing, from the potential of Blue/Red. I don’t know why. Red decks historically have two to three million ways of stopping people from blocking their creatures in any standard environment at once, and Blue decks can provide Red decks with more gas.

(An aside, so Dan Paskins doesn’t install a chimney in my house, then, overnight, sneak in, snap my neck, and use me as a tiny human shield: Time has proven, however, that Red decks don’t need to gasp up with cards from Blue. They can just, you know, win with the Red ones. And non-Red Blue decks are used by lepers and Scotsmen.)

Long story short… I had synergy. I had my two pieces of the puzzle. I had a desire for a deck that smacked an opponent on turn 2 with a ninja, I had a place to go, and above all else, I had a long sentence that I needed another component to end.

So let’s see where we go.

Section 2: After The Introduction
My first port of call when the time came to look at the deck I was building was to consider that I was playing Blue and Red, but I wanted to play a Blue spell on turn 2 and a Red one on turn 1. This meant my mana base was going to be shaky – but I’ve complained more than enough about the mana this deck is forced to have. This “combo” also says that it wants to be aggressive, attacking my opponent’s life total, while keeping a path clear for its threats. It can deal with one threat on its own – the goblin ignores the biggest blocker, and the Ninja of the Deep Hours means that if I spend one spell per turn keeping my opponent’s other blockers busy, I will still be ahead on cards.

If they don’t draw cards and such. Shhhh.


So yeah. I wanted a deck that spat up a threat early and hit harder and faster. Which says, to me, aggro-control. A ninja and a goblin, hand in hand, can win the game on their own pretty quickly if they start to hit on turn 2, and in Red, I can always finish the last few points with a bit of burn. So let’s get a list together. We want a flat mana curve, at least for the early turns. Frenzied Goblin isn’t enough for Ninja Enablers, so enter Frostling. Once we have that in, we just fill in the deck with a decent number of creatures, and then top it off with burn and bounce. Oh, and countermagic.

That said, we can’t just use that philosophy to excuse awful early-game threats that just suck in the late game. Otherwise, we start putting Ornithopters in here, and that’s the kind of thing that makes baby Jesus cry.

Burn options are limited. The more I look at this deck, the more I want to justify Volcanic Hammer, but the sorcery speed nature of the spell makes it a real ass to cast, and you already have a totally clogged two-drop slot. Furthermore, turn 2 wants to be spent on a ninja, and turn three, a Frenzied Goblin.

I’ve been hammering against this decklist for some time, testing various things. Allow me to present the core. Or at least, the start:

Mana Base:
11 Island
11 Mountain

Simple fact is, you’re going to get mana flooded, and, because your colors are so fragile, you’re going to have to mulligan to manascrew at least once. This is because, at least with this deck, I’m poor. There is no doubt in my mind, no doubt at all, that given the light color requirements of whatever colored spells you intend to cast, that these cards could just as easily be replaced with the following mana base:

7 Island
7 Mountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Shivan Reef

With this investment, your mana consistency is going to go through the roof. You’re going to suddenly go from having eleven Red sources available on turn 1 to having fifteen. Then, for turn 2, fifteen possible Blue mana sources. Trust me. It makes life so much easier. It likely won’t even do you much damage over the game. The time your colored mana really matters is turn 1 and turn 2. Take a Shock on turn 1, take a ping on turn 1, maybe and that’s really all you care about. Hell, this deck would be happy for City of Brass, if it could get it on turn 1.

So there’s your basic start. There’s really no halfway measure between “blinged” and “cheap,” I’m afraid.

Then we check in on our creature base. We want to have enablers for the ninja. Guys who are cute coming into play aren’t really the order of the day here – they’re rarely evasive. Though, if you ever Ninjitsu something into play off a Belfry Spirit, mad props to you, my friend. Mad props. Possibly a cheese-and-bacon Slurpee, too. So we want men who are cheap and nobody likes blocking. Well, thank god, Red has plenty.

4 Frenzied Goblin
4 Frostling

The other options on the block for consideration were Scorched Rusalka, Drowned Rusalka, and Boros Recruit. Of them, they either require mana to be good, or don’t do a hell of a lot on their own. Boros Recruit lets you do the funky-cool “stack first strike damage, then use Ninjitsu” stunt. For one extra damage, it’s a universe of Not Worth It.

Then, the Ninjas. Not exactly a lot of thinking required here, surely?

Well, there is. Simply put, do you want Higure? He makes the team unblockable, and the turn he hits, he goes and gets a copy of himself to save you time and effort if an opponent kills him. I’ve not tested Higures yet, because I found other cards more effective at Just Winning, but he would give the deck some kick against other decks that wanted to, you know, block your guys. Those jerks. More simply, I never put Higure in because, not only is he rare, because he’s so expensive, and your only way of protecting him is if you want to run him out when you have seven mana available.

When you have seven mana in this deck, you’re losing.

4 Mistblade Shinobi
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours

That gives us sixteen creatures. I’d want four more; and that fifth place on the bench was won finally, after a lot of testing, by a surprising little dude.

3 Gelectrode.

I did say I’d want four more. But testing has proven, as absolutely awesome as Gelectrode is… he has the unfortunate habit of turning up when you don’t really want him. He’ll gum up your hand when you really wish he was just a land, or a burn spell. There are heaps of matchups where he comes down on turn 3 and turns into four or five points of burn, making every spell you play absolutely insane, but there are also matchups where you drop him, your opponent pops their Frostling, and you’re left looking at the gooey puddle you just spent three mana on feeling very foolish. I mean, what were you thinking? The Frostling was right there on the table!

Please note: I did not really do this.

I swear.

I could talk about the ‘Trode for some time. He’s not exactly the picture of efficiency, but for what he does, he’s brilliant. If Vulshok Sorcerer and Prodigal Sorcerer were both available in this format, I’d go for Vulshok over Gelectrode, but by god it would be a hard choice. Really, it depends on your spells, doesn’t it?

4 Mana Leak
4 Remand
4 Repeal
4 Shock
3 Threaten

Remand and Mana Leak are the perfect counters for this kind of deck. They’re cheap, splashable, and above all else, they’re great in the early game. Late game? Well, if it’s the late game, chances are you lose anyway. Really, really hard. Though the game still has some surprisingly good game in the later parts, it can only get there by holding on tight to the reins. In true aggro-control style, you really want a turn 2 threat set up to keep swinging. And my god, would this deck kill for anti-Wrath of God tech so far. Sometimes, a Mana Leak is all you have.

Shock I’m not happy with. I’d like for it to be Volcanic Hammer, but your early turns are really strained as it is. Shock, with a Gelectrode, is Lightning Bolt, sure, but you won’t always have Shock, and that can make life tricky dealing with four-toughness creatures, like Loxodon Hierarch. Flames of the Blood Hand would be awesome… but you want to hit your opponent in the face.

I guess, in the end, Shock is best served being Electrolyze. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Repeal rounds out the deck’s ideal of being able to answer enough stuff while it gets through with threats. Unlike my other offerings, this deck doesn’t have the same kind of totally out-of-control beef that can deal exploit a big opening. But Repeal just fits in the puzzle of making combat an annoying time for your opponent. It also answers Ivory Mask, who has proven to be a real pain in my keister to deal with.

Threaten deserves at least a little bit of attention. Its main purpose is to just clear out a blocker, but in this world of Dragons and Huge Dudes, it’s remarkably good at what it does. Even sicker, however, is the ways it can let you abuse the stack. Threaten a blocker, Frenzied Goblin the other one, swing in, Ninjitsu in something, and congratulations, your opponent’s dragon is back in their hand. Meanwhile, their other blocker is standing there, looking up at its controller saying “What do you expect me to do, boss? He paid R!”

If the deck was running Electrolyze, we’d be in a situation where twelve of the cards cantripped, which is just peachy – it’s exactly what I’d want out of the deck, meaning that the spells could find you more land and more creatures, all while doing something useful on their own. For a while, I was testing Telling Times, but they really were just faff. The deck didn’t want card selection, it wanted card draw – fiddle-faddling with your top three wasn’t usually as good as just plain drawing more cards.

Wrapping up casual deck articles is always tricky. It’s tricky, because in the end, you’re not really pitching for a metagame at all. You’re left sitting there tapping your fingertips together going, “Uh, should I do matchup analysis? Or card-by-card analysis?”

Nuts to that action.

No, the deck is really some good, but ultimately, its main problem in testing was mana-based (hah!). Too many hands were mulliganed based on having too few lands, too many hands were mulliganed based on not having the right ones, and way too many were mulliganed for not having any at all. I haven’t been able to test the deck with “good cards” in it. However, there are at least a few changes that I feel I’d like to test, but can’t because I’m poor.

-4 Repeal –3 Gelectrode, +3 Char +4 Giant Solifuge

The Solifuge and the Frenzied Goblin are basically married by now, and there’s not a lot of point to pretending otherwise. This setup gives the deck more long-game reach and reduces the need for the bounce by just plain winning. The only problem I can see with this deck is… well, why the Blue?

-4 Mana Leak, -3 Threaten, +3 Cerebral Vortex, +4 Compulsive Research

This would be to fight Owling Mine-style decks and punish control. Ultimately, this build would want to maximise any opportunity for the deck to draw cards – and that would mean the mana becomes less of a problem. Unfortunately, Research is a sorcery, and you can’t usually tap out for it in the early game unless you’re reasonably certain that your early threats are safe.

Playing The Deck
I can’t stress this enough, a first-turn man, and the mana to cast him, is just golden. A second-turn dude is tolerable, so if your hand has even mana and some snappy answers – like Shocks, if you’re running them – to any first-turn mana accelerators, you can sometimes get away with it. But you have no two-drops! With the eight-one-mana men in the deck, you really should get one in the opening grip, and if you don’t, you’d better pray to draw one so he can hit the table turn 2.

For all that the deck is full of cheap spells, it doesn’t really have anything that could be called a mana curve. Curving out isn’t quite so important, since one of your best turn two plays is, in fact, a tempo loss, turning a Frostling or Frenzied Goblin into a ninja. Going Frostling, Ninja Deep Hours, Gelectrode can be a fine curve… for other decks. In this one, it’s usually best to go Frostling, Deep Hours, Frostling-with-Remand-Mana-Open. Gelectrode is a late-game card. Use him as such.

Gelectrode eats a lot of decks on his own. A simple little gun, he discourages creature enchantments, and there are a total of two creatures I’ve seen him not be able to take out with some help. Gelectrode has taken out a Yosei for me, he’s dealt with a Kokusho, and he’s even – and this one took some help – dealt with a Myojin of Cleansing Fire after the counter was removed. The shenanigans I put up with for you people. But at the same time, he’s fragile – Darkblast will kill him, and once you see a Darkblast, you can rest assured that every Gelectrode you see after that point is, in fact, a blank card.

Deep Hours is your best ninja. Mistblade is only in there because there are some times where, damnit, you do need the guy. Mistblade Shinobi exists to sneak through on the back of a Frenzied Goblin or a Threatened Creature and remove – however briefly – whatever it is the goblin was cunningly sidestepping. Sometimes, he’s just a good deal, tempo-wise; swinging on turn 2 with a Frostling, ninja’ing out a Misty, and bouncing your opponent’s Bird, Goth Elf, or Isamaru can be a nice little tempo play, especially since it ends with you dropping the Frostling afterward.

Against Owling Mine, counter the Howling Mines or lose. You really can’t stop a Howling Mine from totally making your day suck, and Exhaustions hit you hard. In the butt.

This build – “main deck,” if you will – is pretty good against other aggro decks, and reasonable against combo. If you wanted to be better against combo, you’d best sideboard some more countermagic, and Flames of the Blood Hand seems to be a charming trick against everything running Fetters and Loxodon Hierarch.

Against control decks, you’re in a bit more trouble. If your board gets swept, you’re boned. You can sometimes have great times when you have Frostling into Ninja into Gelectrode into Remand-your-Wrath-and-take-one-for-the-privilege, but you can’t expect to see it. Your main focus in the matchup against a control and midgame decks is stopping their board sweepers, and stockpiling fire and backup men in your hand to end the game if you drop the ball and a sweeper gets through.

Finally, and this I cannot stress enough; your game plan against Jitte is to grab your ankles. That’s about it. This is why it’s a casual deck and not an actual tourney deck. If it were, you’d be running Jittes of your own, and then going To Town with them on your opponent’s face. Then the curve becomes a lot nicer, and Gelectrode and Threaten, as your way of randomly removing annoying creatures, can suddenly turn into burn spells, or even other evasive creatures. Note there aren’t that many that don’t, well, suck.

Revolting Developments
This brings us to the end of this little excursion. And it leaves me with a question. When was the last time you, dear reader, found two little pieces clicking together like this? I’ve heard tales of Ghost Council of Orzhova less-than-threeing Debtor’s Knell, and I’ve heard other people having mad fun with Tallowisps and Shoals.

But while that’s great fun at the top tables and all, it still leaves me consciously wondering what the last cool idea you had was. Why?

Because any deck designer who thinks he can have every good idea is a jackass. And like every good deck designer, I want to steal some ideas that sound cool.

So c’mon.


I’ll be your friend.

Hugs and kisses
Talen Lee
talen at dodo dot com dot au

* By the way, I swear to god, I did not write these ads myself.